Sunday, October 30, 2016

Tulum Reflections

Today I swam into the ocean, going further out than I ever have before. I used to be afraid of the water, afraid of the waves, afraid of being at the mercy of a force so much greater than my own strength. Previously I refused to get in the deep water unless I had a companion to cling to. But today I was at ease. The water was warm and clear, and I let myself drift out beyond the breakers. I made sure to periodically check if I was being dragged further out to sea or if there was a lateral riptide, using a large rock outcropping and the distant view of our beachfront hotel as landmarks. To my relief I seemed to have found a spot without a strong current and I stayed more or less stationary. I felt calm, treading water and occasionally submerging my head under the swells. With each dive I would invent a mantra: This is for letting go of the past. This is for embracing the future. This is for being in the present moment. This is for all the loss I have endured. This is for all the love that is yet to come.

I am in Tulum, Mexico right now. I came here with a group of women that I know from Hipline, the dance studio I go to in Oakland. We are on a wellness retreat that involves dancing and strength training and journaling and relaxing. I have been on the road for about three weeks already, and this comes as a welcome opportunity to slow down and reconnect with myself. I am grateful that the format of this retreat is opt-in/opt-out, that each participant is invited to do exactly that which feels right at the moment, nothing more and nothing less. Letting go of the should's of life and instead seeking out what we want, what we need. I have been opting out a lot, foregoing dance class in favor of solitary beach walks. Relaxing in the hammock. Reading Solo Africa, an account of a filmmaker's journey across the Sahara, Sahel and Congo in the late 1980's. Observing the ocean. Drinking mezcal cocktails. Reflecting on the past three weeks I have been traveling, on this year of transition, on my life of habitually moving from one place to another.

I feel compelled to travel, if for no other reason than it brings out my very best self. The person that is aware that moments are fleeting and change is the only constant. The person that is up for spontaneous adventures and road trips and solo yolo salsa dancing under the stars. The person that says yes to what feels right and is unafraid to take risks. The person that had no regrets. The person that cliff jumps and goes skinny dipping and takes long-distance buses and makes friends in an instant over a shared smile and a familiar song.

I don't want to veer away from this path. I don't want to sacrifice this feeling of freedom and endless possibility. I am aware it is a privilege to be able to travel and be self-employed. I hope to do it justice. I hope to move forward with courage. To get in the ocean and swim beyond where it seems reasonable and realize that I am safe there, that I am at ease in the world, that everything is as it is meant to be.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Valencia County Observations

I'm in New Mexico for a week, enjoying some time observing life in the place where I grew up. Here are some of the moments that have stood out to me about Los Lunas and Valencia County, the place where my dad calls home:

This is a rural area about an hour south of Albuquerque. The scenery is serene and classically New Mexican: wide open fields of hay and corn, grandiose cottonwoods whose leaves have started turning yellow with the changing seasons, chile roasting on street corners, and dusty mountains in the distance. In the middle of this all runs the Rio Grande, currently a small trickle because so much water has been diverted into the irrigation ditches that criss-cross the landscape. The people here are connected to the land, to family, to tradition.

Driving around I am struck by the billboards along Highway 47, which fall into a few main themes:

- DWI (You can't afford it!)
- Anti Domestic Abuse (Elders and children are our heritage, our future!)
- Pro-Life propaganda (My heart beats 18 days after conception!)
- Personal Injury Lawyers
- Military Recruitment
- Indian Casinos

Tells you a lot about the problems people face and the values they hold...

As I write this I am sitting in a café in Los Lunas (the main town around these parts) that is part coffee shop, part Christian bookstore / religious supplies, and part guitar store. It is the closest wifi to my dad's house (he has no internet and my cell signal is practically nonexistent) so if I want to check email or blog or do some work, I come here.

Culture shock is an understatement. Not only is there all the religious paraphernalia and "church people" vibe from the staff and patrons, there is the political aspect. The people here like their guns. Next to the coffee creamer is an advertisement for Concealed Carry Training. I just overheard someone talk about how Obama was the best thing ever for gun and ammo sales, that they skyrocketed because of him. Another table over there is a guy loudly voicing his support for Trump and calling Bernie Sanders supporters "sheeple" for now supporting Hilary. He's all about the government conspiracies, too, talking about 9/11 being an inside job and how he just bought a $2,000 end-of-the-world survival kit because shit is going to go down.

The scary part to me is that everyone who walks in and overhears these conversations in progress jumps in and is in agreement! Guns and Trump and anti-Obama and God are the anthem over here! It makes me reconsider where I am spending my $7 for coffee and a breakfast burrito, but then again there's no guarantee that the owner of Starbucks on the far side of town (the other wifi option) is not cut from the same cloth, even though the corporate aspect of the place might suggest neutrality.

I don't identify with Valencia County as being home (I lived with my mom in Albuquerque from ages 5 to 15), but my dad has always been here so it is familiar and full of memories. Since my mom moved to California over a decade ago, my dad's house is now my base when I come to New Mexico. While I appreciate the hospitality he and his wife extend to me, I am struck by how anthropological these visits feel. I am definitely an outsider, observing "the other," gaining heightened perception of my own views and values as a result of the contrasts.